U.N. council expands Eritrea sanctions over Somalia

President Isaias Afwerki's Eritrean state has been accused of sponsoring Al Shabaab, a Somali militant group associated with the Al Qaeda terror network. Photo/FILE

(Reuters) – The U.N. Security Council on Monday expanded sanctions against Eritrea for continuing to provide support to Islamist militants, including al Shabaab, in the virtually lawless Horn of Africa nation of Somalia.

The council resolution – which got 13 votes in favor, none against and two abstentions – was diluted from earlier drafts that sought to ban investment in Eritrea’s mining industry and outlaw imports of its minerals. Asmara denies aiding al Shabaab or any other militant groups in Somalia.

The original draft, circulated by Gabon in October, also sought to block payment of a tax Eritrea puts on remittances from its nationals abroad.

The final version, which expands sanctions imposed two years ago, simply requires countries to make their companies involved in mining in Eritrea exercise “vigilance” to ensure funds from the sector are not used to destabilize the region.

The steps passed two years ago included an arms embargo.

Diplomats said Russia and China, both of which abstained from Monday’s vote, opposed sanctioning the mining sector and remittances and that some European countries and the United States also felt the original draft was too tough and could penalize the Eritrean people.

On remittances, the resolution calls on states to act to ensure Eritrea ceases “using extortion, threats of violence, fraud and other illicit means to collect taxes outside of Eritrea from its nationals.” It also “condemns” Eritrea for using a remittance tax to fund mischief in the Horn of Africa.

Eritrea is seen to be on the brink of a minerals boom that could revive its struggling economy, while remittances it gets from its large diaspora in the West and Middle East are its biggest source of foreign exchange.

The country’s most advanced mining project, Bisha, believed to contain gold, copper and zinc, is run by Canada’s Nevsun Resources Ltd (NSU.TO). Earlier this year, Eritrea granted Australia’s Chalice Gold Mines (CHN.AX) two new exploration licenses in a nearby location.

LITANY OF CRITICISM

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice welcomed the resolution’s adoption, saying “our goal is to show Eritrea that it will pay an ever higher price for its actions.”

British envoy Mark Lyall Grant said the council could pass “additional measures if there is evidence of further non-compliance.”

The vote came after top officials from Somalia, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda lined up earlier on Monday to criticize Eritrea and urge the council to pass the resolution.

The president of Somalia’s transitional government, Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, told council members that Eritrea had been undermining his government’s efforts to reach reconciliation agreements with Islamist groups like al Shabaab.

“The support they find from the Eritrean regime has prevented such reconciliation,” Ahmed said.

Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Meles Zenawi also blasted Eritrea and its President Isaias Afewerki. Speaking by video link, he described Asmara’s approach to the Horn of Africa as “lawlessness and reckless disregard for international law.”

Afewerki had also asked to address the council but Eritrea complained he was not given enough time to come to New York.

The push for new sanctions followed a report by a U.N. monitoring group in July that found Eritrea continued to provide political, financial, training and logistical support to al Shabaab and other armed groups in Somalia.

Eritrea’s U.N. ambassador, Araya Desta, told Reuters on Friday the allegations were “ridiculous” and the draft resolution “outrageous.”

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3 thoughts on “U.N. council expands Eritrea sanctions over Somalia

  1. hornofafricaobserver

    UN adopts milder Eritrea stance

    Kenya is hopeful that it will achieve a diplomatic victory in its dispute with Eritrea over support for Al-Shabaab in Somalia.

    The UN Security Council was tentatively scheduled to vote on a Kenya-backed resolution imposing new sanctions on Eritrea on Monday night.

    By the time we were going to press, Kenya’s Ambassador to the UN Macharia Kamau had said the he was pretty confident that none of the council’s five permanent members would veto the resolution introduced by Gambia on behalf of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development.

    Kenya “has been involved in the background” at UN headquarters in New York “to make sure [the resolution] is palatable to as many Security Council members as possible,” Ambassador Kamau told the Nation.

    A couple of the proposed sanctions have been weakened in recent weeks in order to gain majority backing in the Security Council.

    The measure now contains milder language pertaining to Eritrea’s mining industry, saying that foreign companies should exercise greater “vigilance” in their dealings with that sector.

    In addition, the draft resolution now “condemns” rather than prohibits use of a tax on Eritreans working abroad “for purposes such as procuring arms and related material for transfer to armed opposition groups.”

    The resolution still refers specifically to Eritrea’s support for Al-Shabaab insurgency that Kenyan and African Union troops are battling in Somalia.

    The threat of new punishments and diplomatic disgrace may lead Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki to make what Ambassador Kamau calls “a last-ditch effort at swaying the council not to vote for the resolution.”

    The head of state may come to New York in the next few days to personally make Eritrea’s case to the 15-nation Security Council.

    Expands current sanctions

    Eritrea has denied it is aiding Al-Shabaab and has accused Kenya of making false accusations against it. (Read: Eritrea protests against Kenya threats)

    The United States, which favours strengthening the UN sanctions imposed on Eritrea in 2009, opposes a visit by President Afeworki.

    “We still think it’s redundant and likely counterproductive to have a spectacle in the Security Council in which heads of state make emotional statements,” US Ambassador Susan Rice told reporters on Wednesday.

    East African leaders have demanded that the UN Security Council clamp down on Eritrea which they accused of unprovoked invasions, terrorism and flouting international law.

  2. hornofafricaobserver

    U.N. ratchets up sanctions on Eritrea

    (CNN) — The U.N. Security Council on Monday slapped additional sanctions on Eritrea for allegedly providing support to armed groups seeking to destabilize Somalia and other parts of the Horn of Africa.
    “This resolution underscores the international community’s condemnation of Eritrea’s destabilizing behavior … and its support for terrorism,” said Susan Rice, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. “Today we have sent a clear message to the government of Eritrea that it must cease all illegal actions threatening international peace and stability in the Horn of Africa.”
    The decision to pass Resolution 2023 came two years after the council adopted Resolution 1907, which imposed sanctions on Eritrea for failing to engage “constructively in resolving its border dispute with Djibouti,” Rice said in a statement. “Most alarmingly, it was providing political, financial and logistical support to armed groups seeking to undermine peace in Somalia.”
    Since then, the United States has “continually received evidence of Eritrean support for extremist groups in the region” and Eritrea still has not resolved its border dispute, she said.
    “The U.N.’s Somalia and Eritrea Monitoring Group has documented Eritrea’s support for terrorism, including an appalling, planned attack on the January 2011 African Union Summit in Addis Ababa,” she said. “According to the monitoring group, Eritrea is financing all of these activities through illicit means, including threats and the extortion of a ‘diaspora tax’ from people of Eritrean descent living overseas.”
    Monday’s imposition of tougher sanctions came in response to that, she said, adding, “Our goal is to show Eritrea that it will pay an ever higher price for its actions.”
    In a statement issued November 29, Eritrea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs called for an investigation into the “groundless rumors” and other claims against Eritrea.
    “Whereas it is Eritrea’s legitimate right to challenge these baseless campaigns of incrimination in an open forum, the Security Council itself is duty-bound to investigate issues submitted to it and thereby take the necessary measures,” it said.
    It called for “an initiative that could bring viable solution for the Somali issue.”
    In Monday’s text, which was sponsored by Gabon and Nigeria, the council demanded that Eritrea “cease all direct or indirect efforts to destabilize states.”
    The council also called on Eritrea to move forward with Djibouti to resolve the border dispute.
    Monday’s resolution won support from 13 of the council’s 15 members. China and Russia abstained. Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said there was not enough evidence to prove that Eritrea was behind the attacks against the African Union.

  3. hornofafricaobserver

    Somalia president accuses Eritrea of arming Islamists
    By Emmanuel Goujon (AFP) – May 27, 2009
    MOGADISHU (AFP) — Somalia’s President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed on Wednesday accused Eritrea of arming hardline Islamists fighting to oust his government, a day after his own palace came under a barrage of mortar shells.
    It was the first time he directly blamed the small African nation since the eruption early this month of some of the heaviest fighting against his four-months-old government.
    “We know for sure that the majority of the weapons in the hands of the insurgents are coming from Eritrea,” he told reporters at his targeted residence.
    “Eritrea is very much involved here… We know that Eritrean officers come here and bring money in cash.”
    Sharif said that in the past the officers would send money via Nairobi or Dubai, but “now they come directly with cash.”
    The hardline Islamists, believed to be propped up by hundreds of foreign jihadists, want to impose a stricter Sharia law in the lawless country.
    Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Sharmarke said there were up to 400 foreign fighters while Sharif said the majority of them are from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq.
    “We still understand that the influx of Al-Qaeda members continues and you can imagine how the situation will be if they take over,” said Sharif.
    According to Sharif, Asmara’s intention in backing the radical Islamists was to create a base to train units to wage guerrilla war against its arch-foe Ethiopia.
    “Since there is a war and tensions between Ethiopia and Eritrea, Eritrea needs a place where Ethiopian opposition groups could be trained,” he said. Relations between Ethiopia and Eritrea have been tense since a devastating border war in the late 1990s in which some 80,000 people died.
    Eritrea was vehemently opposed to the deployment of Ethiopian troops in Somalia in late 2006.
    Asked whether he backed a re-deployment of Ethiopian troops in the face of the renewed attacks, Sharif said “absolutely not.”
    “We would like our country to remain independent,” he added.
    Residents in a Somalia border town with Ethiopia recently said they saw Ethiopian troops there, but Sharif said authorities had discussed the matter “and they have agreed that Ethiopian troops will remain inside their border.”
    The United States and African Union have accused Eritrea of fuelling the violence in Somalia, a charge Eritrea denies. African countries have called for the imposition of United Nations sanctions on Asmara.
    Islamist fighters opposed to Sharif launched the latest onslaught on May 7, vowing to topple his Western-backed government.
    More than 200 people have been killed and some 62,000 Mogadishu residents have fled the clashes in the past 20 days. Sharif has been holed up in his presidential compound under the protection of AU peacekeepers.
    Islamists insurgents on Wednesday warned that prolonging the African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia would only worsen the crisis, a day after the UN decided on extending its tenure.
    “We clearly say that extending the mandate of the foreign forces means extending violence and hostility in the Muslim country of Somalia,” said Sheikh Ali Mohamoud, a spokesman for Shebab Islamists.
    “To those deployed in Somalia, you are the ones that are trapped and dying here every day, but not those taking wines in New York. We warn you not to be here for the Mujahedeen fire.”
    The AU mission, deployed in March 2007, counts more than 4,300 Ugandan and Burundian soldiers and is charged with protecting strategic sites in the capital such as the presidency, the port and the airport.
    But it is not allowed to fight alongside government forces and is authorised to retaliate only in the case of a direct attack.
    Sharif’s government, which has been confined to parts of the capital, took up power in January after a UN-sponsored reconciliation process.
    The Shebab, a homegrown radical group whose leaders are suspected of links to Al-Qaeda, and the Hezb al-Islamiya armed group loyal to hardline opposition leader Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys have been battling the government.
    A country of around 10 million, Somalia has had no effective central authority since former president Mohamed Siad Barre was ousted in 1991, setting off a bloody cycle of clashes.

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